Reauthorization committee looks for new leader

News AASHTO Journal December 15, 2004
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Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who will assume the post of Senate Minority Leader in the 109th Congress, announced that he will vacate his position as ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is responsible for reauthorization of the federal-aid highway and transit programs. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont) will reportedly take that post.

As the ranking minority member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, Reid had worked closely with Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.) and Baucus in drafting the Senate's $318 billion SAFETEA proposal. That close relationship became frayed in the closing months of the 108th Congress, however, as Inhofe pressed for a funding compromise of $299 billion over six years. Reid and his Democratic colleagues refused to agree to anything lower than $318 billion. As a result, the Congress resorted to a sixth extension of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which continues what was the 2003 funding level to May 31, 2005.

It's unclear whether the shift in the subcommittee leadership may have some effects on reauthorization legislation. Sen. Baucus represents a large but sparsely populated Western state without large urban concentrations of population, unlike Nevada where Las Vegas is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the nation. Montana is one of the so-called donee states that receive more in highway funding than they individually pay in tax revenue to the Highway Trust Fund. It is possible that a new leader could weigh in on the 95% return issue that has proven to be among the most contentious of the reauthorization debate. However, Inhofe may urge members to make as few changes as possible in a new reauthorization bill in order to preserve the consensus that had begun to emerge in the final days of the conference.

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